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Rice Advocates Open Elections in Haiti

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Port-au-Prince Tuesday to talk with the Haiti's interim government about the upcoming national elections.

Traveling with a small group of congressmen, Secretary Rice visited , President Boniface Alexandre, and members of the U.N. peacekeeping force, MINUSTAH. The U.S. delegation also toured a voter registration center in the capital.

In a news conference at the National Palace today, Secretary Rice said her visit was a show of support to the Haitian people during their electoral process. She urged all Haitians to work together to ensure the legitimacy of the national elections this coming November. "In my conversations today I noted that all Haitians must accelerate preparations for the elections. I underscored also that the elections must be open and inclusive and fair," she said.

The Haitian Provisional Elections Commission, known locally as the CEP, has been working with U.N. officials in preparation for the vote. Major problems, such as bad roads, lack of electricity and civil unrest, have kept many Haitians from registering. So far, 2.6 million people have registered to vote in a country where as many as four million are eligible.

Government critics from the former ruling party, Lavalas, claim many of the delays and complications are intentional and aimed at excluding them from power.

But Prime Minister Latortue says the government is non-partisan, and wants to hold open elections in which everyone can participate. He says his government is ready to welcome the next president, and pass the reins of power to him. He says there have been some technical problems, but the government is working hard to solve them. He says the elections will be held on time and the transfer of power will take place next February.

Secretary Rice underscored the role of the international community in providing security and technical expertise to ensure free and fair elections. In her comments, she urged the Haitian people to take charge of their future, and go to the polls. "Mr. Prime Minister, throughout history people have fought for the right to vote. There is no weapon more powerful in the hands of a citizen than the vote. And so to the people of Haiti, I urge you to use that powerful weapon - the vote - in the days ahead," she said.

So far, there are 32 presidential candidates on the ballot. The election campaign will officially open in early October.